Eagles and Ospreys
by Jeff Lewis

(Editor's Note: Mr. Lewis is currently touring the western United States with his wife, Lynn.  From time to time, he will be sending in notes from their travels.)

This past January, my wife, Lynn, and I saw a bald eagle at a small pond on a military reserve.  The day before, we saw a golden eagle and probably a condor.  These sightings inspired us to undertake the second phase of our old-before-our-time biathlon: bird watching.  The first phase was gardening, but we’ve filled up nearly every growable inch of our yard, so we’ve hit a lull until we buy a special rat-proof composter, at which point we’ll probably tear out our grass and plant a “structural edibles” garden, comprised chiefly of mature onions and rhubarb.  Yes, this is a sure sign of early onset middle age.

Anyway, the eagles prompted us to purchase two binoculars—one is rather fancy—and three bird books (as an aside, we own about 40 gardening books).  We spent several weekends driving obscure Northern Californian roads looking at hawks.  At one point, when we only had two bird books, we saw two Harris’s hawks hunting in marshland.  They looked exactly like the Harris’s hawks in the better of our two books; they demonstrated the rare multi-raptor hunting technique described in the book.  When we read up more on them at www.buteo.com, we found that these hawks are very rare, but if you are lucky—and driving through New Mexico or Western Texas—you may see them nesting on the ground.  The only way to see Harris’s hawks in Northern California marshland is if you put them there yourself.  We needed a new book.

Our new book, in addition to informing us that we’d seen northern harriers rather than Harris’s hawks, showed a neat picture of an osprey.  I wanted to see an osprey.  In fact, I added this to my meager list of goals for the next year:  1) Write more.  2) Eat fewer french fries.  3) On occasion, eat non-endangered, non-toxic fish.  4) See more eagles.  5) Keep office less cluttered.  6) Use boyish good looks and cheerful disposition to remove Bush from office.  7) See osprey, preferably while diving to catch a fish.  Then, because I’d forgotten to add it before:  8) Buy above-mentioned composter.

Currently, we’re over halfway through a month-long road trip through the Northwest (and Canadian Southwest).  I don’t recall a day that’s passed without an osprey sighting.  With views of diving ospreys, baby ospreys, relaxing-by-the-lake ospreys and ospreys engaging in aerial battles, I can happily check off goal #7.  I wish goal #6 could be that easy.

We’ve now seen so many bald eagles that if we weren’t tried and true Americans, we’d be dangerously close to blasé about them.  Judging by the national parks and forests we’ve seen in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Americans are mad about bald eagles.  They pull off the road.  They point.  They photograph the eagle, even if it is a small black and white speck that won’t show up on a disposable camera.

Canadians are different.  I don’t need an encyclopedia to know that their national bird is not an eagle.  Near the beginning of our trip, when we’d only seen two eagles in total, Lynn and I stopped one day at a pullout near the Vancouver-Victoria ferry because we saw dozens of magnificent blue herons flying into a grove of trees.  After a while, we noticed an eagle.  By our third day of observing the grove, we’d seen an entire four-eagle family terrorize the heron colony.  A Canadian couple drove by and asked what we were looking at.  I said, “Eagles.”  The man looked at me like, “That’s it?”  Lynn saved us with, “There’s a breeding pair and two juveniles!”  The man thought for a second and replied, “Right on,” and drove off with just a brief glance up.  The next day, we found out that there’s a place near Whistler where upwards of 1,000 eagles congregate to snap up spawning salmon each February.

A Canadian naturalist told us that bird watching is a growing trend among Canadians.  I guess they only need to use the non-eagle pages of their bird books.

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004